Danks subdues Yankees in Game 1
Rookie outduels Mussina; Konerko, Pierzynski homer
CHICAGO -- It would be easy for John Danks to revel in his first career victory against the vaunted New York Yankees, coming via a 5-3 win in the first game of Wednesday's split-doubleheader at U.S. Cellular Field.
After all, the 22-year-old Danks had made just six previous Major League starts prior to Wednesday's contest and none of them came against the Bronx Bombers. But getting extra pleasure out of shutting down perennial All-Stars such as Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, to name a few, does not fit the personality profile Danks has exhibited since throwing his first pitch for the South Siders back in Spring Training.
Danks is a cool customer, a young southpaw mature beyond his years, who truly seems to treat each start the same. The only noticeable difference in Danks on Wednesday came in the form of a few extra miles on his fastball.
"He was throwing a little harder than I remember him throwing," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski of Danks, who allowed two runs on seven hits over 6 1/3 innings, setting a career-high with seven strikeouts. "I think he had a little juice today.
"I don't know what's going on, but he had some blood flowing, some adrenaline going," Pierzynski added.
Pierzynski believes the first inning was a key sequence for Danks, who has won his last two starts after losing his first four decisions. Danks struck out Johnny Damon and Rodriguez, and retired Jeter on a ground ball to second, gaining confidence from the perfect frame.
The lead actually bounced back and forth for five innings in Game 1, with the White Sox (19-16) taking control in the bottom half of a previous stanza, only to have the Yankees (17-20) answer back in their next at-bats. With the score tied at 2 in the bottom of the sixth, the White Sox broke the pattern against Mike Mussina (2-2) with three runs.
Their game-winning rally started with Pierzynski's seventh home run, a blast to left giving him the team lead. The wind provided assistance to balls hit to right or right-center, as Paul Konerko pointed out in regard to his fifth home run coming with one out in the fourth. But Pierzynski mimicked Bobby Abreu's drive into the stands by going the opposite way.
"Mussina changes speeds so much, knows so many different pitches, that you have to just hope he makes a mistake," said Pierzynski, who raised his average to .248 with two hits. "He did and I hit it out.
"After seeing that ball A-Rod hit, I didn't think there was any ball that was going to leave left today," Pierzynski added.
Rodriguez's blast came with one out in the fourth, but the wind knocked down his towering fly ball for Ryan Sweeney to make the play. Danks got a little support from the elements but received far more assistance from his defense and an offense showing signs of life.
Joe Crede added a run-scoring single during the three-run sixth, and Tadahito Iguchi capped the rally with a sacrifice fly, bringing home Rob Mackowiak. The three-run lead was given to David Aardsma and Matt Thornton (first save), who allowed one run over the final 2 2/3 innings.
Thornton closed out the victory, as opposed to regular closer Bobby Jenks. Manager Ozzie Guillen stayed with his hard-throwing southpaw in an attempt to keep left-handed hitting Robinson Cano on the bench and leave switch-hitting Melky Cabrera working from the right side.
"We were going to keep him all the way to Jeter," said Guillen of Thornton, who left Jeter on deck when he struck out Damon looking to end the game. "Jeter would have been Booby's turn. Bobby is still my closer."
There were no celebratory showers for Danks after this victory, a tradition that followed his first career win last Wednesday at the Metrodome. Instead, Danks continued to serve notice as one of the top young pitchers in the American League.
Over his last three quality starts, Danks has posted a 2.79 ERA in 19 2/3 innings. He used his curveball to complement a 94-mph fastball Wednesday, but never veered from the approach of attacking the strike zone and working at a quick pace.
"He's a young [Mark] Buehrle, that's what they call him. It looks like it," said Konerko of Danks. "He comes out and doesn't care. He's fearless and you couldn't ask for a better approach for a guy that we stuck in the rotation at the end of Spring Training."
"I try to keep as even keel as possible," Danks added. "I feel like I can go out there and get outs, give our team a chance to win every time out. This [win] doesn't have any effect, negative or positive, towards my confidence."
As for relishing a victory over the Yankees, Danks showed the poise of a veteran by simply pointing to the importance of the victory itself.
"Obviously, beating a team like the Yankees makes you feel a little better about yourself," Danks said. "But all the credit goes to A.J. and Paulie and those guys working behind me."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.